Only a few weeks ago, Apple held a media event where it announced the latest iPhones and Apple Watches. Where, people wondered, were the iPad and Mac upgrades? The answer: right here.
At today's event, Apple introduced the latest iPad Pro, Apple Pencil, MacBook Air, and Mac Mini. Yes, the poor Mini was finally updated. The company also released iOS 12.1, with a range of features and fixes.
Apple: The Environmentally Friendly Fruit
For all three products announced today, we heard about Apple's commitment to reducing the carbon footprint of its devices. Each new product we'll talk about shares similar environmental friendliness. They all use more recycled plastics in their internals, they all have logic boards made completely from recycled tin, and they all use recycled aluminum. Specifically, the Mac Minis and MacBook Airs have casings that are made entirely from the extra aluminum that comes from producing the new iPad Pros.
The iPad Pro has been due for an upgrade for some time now, given its old-style design in the era of no-bezel iPhones and Apple Watches. Sure, the screen and internals were improved in the last refresh, but the Home Button and other standard features remained. Today, Apple finally showed off the update we all expected, with some surprises to boot.
First and foremost, Apple's war on bezels continues. This new iPad Pro has no Home Button and very thin bezels, letting the screen take up the bulk of iPad's face. As with other Apple products, this results in a larger screen on both sizes: the 10.5-inch Pro now has an 11-inch screen, while the 12.9-inch stays at the same size, but in a form factor barely larger than a piece of notebook paper. Both models are 5.9mm thick, with 25% less volume than their predecessors. As you may have guessed, a new keyboard case for each size was briefly shown off today and will be available to order for your new iPad Pro. Old cases won't work at all.
The screen was--not surprisingly--featured first and foremost. It's similar to the screen in iPhone XR, and even shares the same name: Liquid Retina. It is LCD, with Retina quality, though a pixel density wasn't given. As expected, it includes all the usual iPad screen features, like True Tone and wide color.
Speaking of screens, if the built-in display just isn't enough for you, you can do something about it; just plug into a 5K monitor. iOS has long been able to connect with external devices through the use of adapters, but no more. For the first time in the history of iOS, Apple has added a USB port. This lets you connect iPad Pro to anything that uses USB, such as monitors, drives, printers, microphones, and plenty more. This new USB-C port not only lets you use a huge range of accessories, but can also send power out. For instance, you can charge your iPhone or AirPods from the iPad by connecting a USB-C to Lightning cable. You can't charge your MacBook this way, but you can finally use the same cable to power up your Mac and your iPad. The only down side to this change is the number of Lightning accessories, such as instrument interfaces or chargers, that won't work with iPad Pro anymore. USB-C is a great move in the long term, but it will sting for some users. To be clear, there's still just a single port on this iPad, but it's USB-C, not Lightning. Apple didn't include one of each.
Speaking of ports, I'm sad to tell you that today's iPad refresh does away with the headphone jack. While you do gain USB-C, it comes at the expense of the trusty old 3.5mm audio jack we first lost on iPhone 7.
Another feature coming from iPhone to iPad is Face ID. This is no surprise, given the lack of a Home Button. The very thin bezel left on the top of the screen houses the same Face ID hardware that is found in the 2018 iPhone lineup, powered by the same neural processor. The underlying machine learning has been re-trained, though, to work with scenarios tablet users will encounter. Different angles, different lighting, and other factors meant that Apple had to make sure that Face ID had new details so it could be as fast and accurate as users expect. Oh, and yes, this means the gestures first seen on iPhone X are now standard on iPad Pro, with no Home Button fallback like on iPad models before today's.
iPad Pro and its keyboard case are only two parts of the iPad Pro setup you can get, though. The third piece is Apple Pencil, an advanced stylus-like tool introduced with the original iPad Pro. Today, this accessory got its first update. Apple Pencil can now charge wirelessly, by simply being magnetically attached to the latest iPad Pro. This will be great news for users, as the previous generation charged by being plugged into the Lightning port of the companion iPad, sticking straight out of the port. The new Pencil also supports a double tap, which can trigger an action chosen by the developer. For instance, performing this double tap while drawing might switch between draw and erase modes, or--as Adobe showed off--between zoomed and standard views.
Powering the new iPad Pro is the A12 X Bionic, the counterpart to the A12 Bionic processor in the latest iPhones. The A12 X has eight cores, half for low power and high efficiency, the rest for speed and power. Between this and the new graphics chip, Apple claims that this iPad is faster than 92% of the mobile computers sold in the last twelve months. Whether this statistic includes the company's own laptops was not specified, but I get a chuckle out of thinking that Apple accidentally told people that the iPad is faster than the shiny new MacBook we'll talk about in a moment. Regardless, the iPad has impressive performance numbers, with Apple claiming that it has better graphics performance than an Xbox 1X. The A12 X is 40% faster at single core tasks, and 90% faster at multi-core ones, than the A11 X found in last year's iPads. It also sports the same machine learning processing system introduced in the A12 iPhone CPU, but can run ML tasks far better.
Apple updated the MacBook Air today, giving it a host of new features that every potential user will be excited to have, and an updated price tag that no one will enjoy. The price for the base model is now $1,199, which is more than the Air has cost for years. Let's have a look at the features that could make this price worth it.
Apple started with the screen, as they often do, but I'm going to start with the internals. Most of you reading this won't care what the screen looks like, but will certainly care about the speed and performance you can expect. This MacBook sports a 1.6GhZ Intel Core I5 processor (eighth generation), 8GB of ram, and 128GB of flash storage in the base configuration. You can get up to 16GB of ram and 1.5TB of flash storage, with a processor running at... Well, the only CPU available, 1.6GhZ Intel Core I5. Don't worry about choosing a size, though, because this new Air comes in 13 inches only.
As to how you interact with it, you'll be happy--or furious, depending on your preference--to hear that the new Air uses the latest butterfly keyboard. If you've used a MacBook Pro from the last couple years, you'll know what this keyboard feels like. A Touch ID sensor is now included in the keyboard, bringing with it the T2 security chip found in other modern Macs. The trackpad is now Apple's standard Force Touch model, and is 20% larger than what the current Air has. For ports, you get two USB-C ports that support Thunderbolt 3, and the usual headphone/microphone combo jack.
A big part of the price is the screen, so let's address that. There are four times more pixels on this new Air than on the current generation, bringing the display up to Retina standards. This means that, finally, Apple is not selling any non-Retina devices that I can think of. There weren't really any other details given, such as advanced features like True Tone, or even anti-glare. Time will tell how this screen stacks up against the other laptops Apple sells.
The screen isn't the only output that was updated, though: the speakers were overhauled as well. They are now louder, with twice the bass and a wide stereo field. I'm guessing Apple is using a similar technology to the MacBook Pro speakers, and from personal experience, the sound from those is decent. Decent for a laptop, at least. Oh, and while we're on the topic of sound, Hey Siri support is included in the new Air, thanks to three microphones and the constant sound monitoring of the T2 chip.
The new MacBook Air is 10% thinner, 17% smaller in overall volume, and weighs a quarter pound less than the 13-inch Airs it replaces. The battery life is still good, with Apple claiming twelve hours of average use, and thirteen hours of watching movies that aren't streamed. Again, though, it costs about $300 more. Still, with a better CPU, more ram, the Retina screen, improved sound, USB-C ports, and Touch ID, it's worth considering if you're in the market for a Mac but don't need pro-level hardware.
The Mac Mini got an update today. and it's a big one. Not only is there a space gray color option, but the hardware and ports have all been modernized. This machine feels like it's aimed at pro users more than the Minis of the past, with prices to match.
The base model Mini comes with a 3.6GhZ Core I5 processor with four cores, 8GB of ram, and 128GB of flash storage. You can upgrade that to a 3.0GhZ Core I5 six-core CPU, 64GB ram, and 2TB of flash storage. The storage uses a newer interface, making it up to four times faster than what you'd find in previous Minis. The ram, too, uses a newer standard to make it faster. The whole machine is kept cool by a system that has twice the airflow, but is still, in the presenter's words, "super quiet".
All models come with the same T2 chip found on other modern Macs, but not for Touch ID. Rather, the Mini uses this chip for all of its other functions, such as software tampering detection, disk encryption, sound management, and more. No word was given on whether Hey Siri works on the Mini if you connect a microphone.
This update offers a decent set of connectivity options. There's HDMI, two USB-A (the older USB, not the smaller C type found on today's MacBooks), four USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, and 1 gigabit ethernet. You can upgrade to 10 gigabit ethernet if you want to.
Availability and Configurations
Everything announced today is available for pre-order right now. Deliveries are expected to start next Wednesday, on November 7. Here are your options, with prices given in U.S. dollars:
- iPad Pro starts at 64GB. The 11-inch model is $799, the 12.9-inch is $999. Color options are silver and space gray. Of course, adding cellular capability, and/or more storage, will cost more. Storage options are 64GB, 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB.
- The MacBook Air is $1199 for 8GB ram, a 1.6GhZ Core I5, and 128GB of storage. It comes in space gray, silver, or gold, and can be configured with 256GB of storage. No option for a better CPU or more ram was immediately presented, though preorders only just began, so this should change in the future.
- Mac Mini is $799 for 8GB ram, a quad core 3.6GhZ Intel Core I5, and 128GB storage. You can get a 3.2GhZ six-core CPU, up to 2TB of storage, and up to 64GB of ram. You can also opt for 10 gigabit ethernet. The color seems to be space gray, with no option to change.
Finally, note that Apple continues to sell the iPad Pro with 10.5-inch display, though not the larger variant of this older model. The newest non-Pro iPad, and the iPad Mini 4, are both also being sold. The newest Mac Mini seems to be the only model now available, and the MacBook lineup is unclear at this time.
That's the last Apple event we expect for this year. Hopefully it didn't leave your wallet too empty. Do you plan to upgrade anything, or maybe even get a device for the first time? Were you disappointed by anything (other than the higher prices)? Comment away!